Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Browder, Earl Russell (1891–1973)

Head of the American Communist Party (CPUSA) during 1932–1945. Born in Wichita, Kansas, on 20 May 1891, Earl Browder received only an elementary school education but later attended business college and was, for a brief time, a bookkeeper. When he was fifteen, Browder joined the Socialist Party of America. During World War I, he was imprisoned from 1917 to 1918 for draft evasion. In 1921 he joined the newly formed CPUSA.

The American communist movement was largely urbanand immigrant-based, with a dearth of members from the interior heartland; thus, Browder was decidedly in the minority. However, overseas assignments with the Communist International (Comintern) helped Browder's rise within the CPUSA. He was appointed general secretary of the party in 1930 and assumed leadership of it in 1932 when its leader, William Foster, suffered a heart attack. Under Browder's guidance, party membership swelled to its peak of 90,000 in 1939.

Between 1941 and 1945, Browder strongly championed the so-called Grand Alliance. When Josef Stalin dissolved the Comintern in 1943 to placate the West, Browder took this as an opportunity to follow a more autonomous path. In 1944 Browder unilaterally announced that communism and capitalism could coexist peacefully. Such ideological heresy caused his immediate ouster as general secretary. In 1946, Soviet officials stripped Browder of his party membership.

In April 1950, Browder was called to testify before Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's House Committee on Un-American Activities. During his testimony, Browder admitted his involvement in the CPUSA and even criticized it, but he refused to incriminate former associates. He was charged with contempt of Congress but was never prosecuted for it. After his brush with McCarthyism, he retreated into obscurity until his death in Princeton, New Jersey, on 27 June 1973. Soviet archives would later suggest that Browder had participated in espionage prior to 1945, but his precise involvement remains in question.

James G. Ryan


Further Reading
Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books, 1984.; Ryan, James G. Earl Browder: The Failure of American Communism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.; Weinstein, Allen, and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era. New York: Random House, 1999.
 

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